Review of Manuel Castells (2009), Communication Power.
Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. (571 p.) ISBN 978-0-19-956-701-1 To appear in Communications, The European
Journal of Communication (2010)
The book Communication Power can be seen as a successor of Volume II of Castells’ major triology about the Information Age, called The Power of Identity (1997). In his new book Castells focuses on the role of communication networks in power-making in society, with an emphasis on political power making. He defines power as ‘the relational capacity that enables a social actor to influence asymmetrically the decisions of other social actor(s) in ways that favour the empowered actor’s will, interest and values’ (p. 10). Power is not an attribute of individuals and groups but a relationship. This definition clearly is appropriate for networks and the network society, the main topics of this book.
Castells’ main claims are that 1) communication networks are central to the implementation of power-making of any network, such as corporate, financial, cultural-industrial, technology or political networks and 2) that the programming of single networks and switching of different networks are the fundamental sources of power. He even states that network programmers (media companies, public institutions, publishers, editors, technicians) and switchers –such as Rupert Murdoch who links media, cultural, political and financial networks- are the holders of power in the network society (p. 429). The example of Murdoch should not be misunderstood. According to Castells programmers and switchers are not individuals; they are network positions embodied by social actors. ‘Murdoch is a node, albeit a key node’ (idem). Forms of power in networks
Castells distinguishes four forms of power in networks. Unfortunately, he has given them labels that are rather confusing:
1) Networking power is the power over who and what is included in the network. Programmers have the capacity of letting a person, a medium or a message enter the network or not through gate-keeping practices. One of Castells’ main statements in this book is that the rise of so-called ‘mass self-communication’, the use of new media for private messages that are able to reach masses – more about this concept below- next to traditional mass communication reduces the gate-keeping capacity of programmers. Networks can be reprogrammed.
2) Network power is the power of the protocols of network communication. This communication must adapt to the standards embodied in the structure and management of networks. Castells does not specify these standards sufficiently, though he asserts that in mass self-communication the diversity of formats is the rule and that this amplifies the diffusion of messages beyond control, at least as compared to traditional mass communication.
3) Networked power is the power of certain nodes over other nodes inside the network. This is the managerial, agenda-setting, editorial and decision making power in the organizations that own or operate networks. The programmers concerned constitute (decision-making) networks themselves.
4) Network-making power is the capacity to set-up and program a network – of multimedia or traditional mass communication- by their owners and controllers: media corporations, be they businesses or the state. This is the most important form of power in Castells’ analysis. This refers to the statement, called above, that network programmers and switchers are the power holders in the network society. They may be contested by the reprogramming work of mass self-communication.
An important concept for the readers of this journal is mass self-communication. According to Castells this is mass communication because it can potentially reach a global audience and he refers to posting a video on You Tube, issuing a blog with RSS links and sending a message to a massive e-mail list. It is self-communication because the...
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